This generation's literary grandparents (I'm speaking of America) placed a high value on plain honest fiction. It was the generation with the first almost-clear view of sky through the rubble of World War II. The most successful writers relied heavily on magazines like the New Yorker, Harper's and the Atlantic. In these cozy havens, they could work with one editor for decades, polishing, refining and simplifying their styles and voices. The result was a kind of calm cultural overview that often seemed elitist and sometimes was. The audience took a back seat to the writing life; "Let them eat cake!" If they don't like it, there's always, well, television.
The next generation -- Tobias Wolff, Joy Williams, Raymond Carver and so many others -- had their mentors and their writers groups, but the audience mattered more. It had to. This generation relied heavily on the academy and on grants. Today, young writers do not have the luxury of ignoring their audience. Book deals depend heavily on the audience the author brings with them. There is less money, and the money buys less.
Writers write what they write, a path up and out of one generation's burden, one strangulating set of cultural norms into the future, regardless. But fiction, generally speaking, has been affected by this shrinking market, this smaller pie, largely in the last decade. It is more interactive, in very subtle ways. It tries to do more with less. Plot twists can be interpreted in many ways. Reality is layered, archaeological. Perspective shifts. The narrator is hardly ever reliable. Voices labor under the weight of excessive irony. Morality is more elusive as well. The poor reader searches for truth like a needle in a haystack.